Virus Stimulus to Help Courts, Authorizes Some Video Hearings

March 25, 2020, 10:16 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court will get $500,000 as part of a historic government coronavirus stimulus package that also would authorize judges to allow video or telephone conferencing for certain hearings.

Details were included in a bipartisan Senate agreement on the $2 trillion legislation unveiled on Wednesday. A final measure could reach the president’s desk as early as Thursday.

Federal courts across the country have closed or limited access in response to the virus that has accelerated its spread.

The measure would provide $7.5 million to the judiciary, including the $500,000 to supplement spending on high court operations, according to a summary of the agreement from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Other federal courts would get $6 million, including funds for drug and substance abuse treatment programs. Aid for district, appellate, and bankruptcy courts would go for operations.

The Federal Defender Service, responsible for representing indigent defendants, would get an additional $1 million “to continue representing clients without disruption,” the summary said.

The plan also authorizes federal judges to allow video or telephone conferencing for certain hearings, including initial appearances, arraignments, probation and supervised release revocation proceedings, and misdemeanor pleas and sentences.

It also allows for remote hearings for felony pleas and sentencing where the judge finds that a hearing “cannot be conducted in person without seriously jeopardizing public health and safety.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at krobinson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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